Bath Experiences: A morning at the Jane Austen Centre

I had wanted to have breakfast at the 18th century Hall and Woodhouse pub restaurant so I decided to try out the restaurant on the morning I visited the Jane Austen Centre, as it was nearby at Old King Street. The warm crumpets with a pot of hot tea was delicious.

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Crumpets at Hall and Woodhouse

I had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying my tea and the spacious restaurant, before walking over to the Jane Austen Centre.

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After being given a souvenir guide book, I was directed to the waiting room at the centre. I browsed through the souvenir, which included 34 lesser known Jane Austen facts, as I waited for my guide. Soon enough, Serena, the guide for my tour turned up.

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We walked into a room which had the Austen family portraits on its wall. Serena spoke about Jane Austen’s immediate family – her parents and her siblings. I learnt that Jane Austen’s parents were avid readers and encouraged their children to make use of their library at home. Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother, had enjoyed writing poetry and there is one of her rhymes included in the exhibition room. The Austen siblings seem to have been close to each other and had interesting and diverse careers. I also learnt that one of Jane’s siblings, the one indicated by a question mark in the portraits on the wall, had been born with disabilities and had been raised separate from the family, together with an uncle. Serena also mentioned that all Austen siblings knew sign language and probably learnt it to communicate with the second brother, George. I wonder why sign language had not made it into Jane Austen’s writing, as many other facets of her life and people she knew did show up in her fictional characters.

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After the overview of the Austen family, Serena led me to the exhibition room. The exhibition is quite a small one but it does have some interesting objects. It starts with a walk down a corridor lined with framed photographs. The first two are copies of Cassandra’s sketches of Jane Austen. Apparently, the Austen family had felt that the sketches were not reflective of Jane but since it is the only one in existence, it has become her official portrait.

Further down the corridor, there is a map of Bath with places where Jane Austen stayed during her time in Bath. The places reflected the family’s deteriorating financial circumstances. While the building of the Jane Austen Centre has nothing to do with Jane Austen, it is at least similar to the building at No 25 Gay Street further down the same road, where Jane, her sister and mother moved to after her father’s death.

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There were some interesting framed snippets such as the Laws of Bath written by Richard Nash Esq, the Master of the Ceremonies of the Pump Room, in 1707. The quite humorous laws end with the line “whereas Politeness, Decency and Good Manners, three ancient Residents at Bath have, of late, left the Place, whoever shall restore them, shall be rewarded with Honour and Respect.”

On one section of the wall were three portraits indicating the men who had a brief romantic connection in Jane Austen’s life. The portrait in the middle is the younger brother of close friends of Jane, who proposed to her when he turned 21. Jane initially accepted his proposal of marriage but after considering it for 12 hours, turned it down the next day.

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At the end of the tour, there was a little table with a plate of cookies that Serena invited me to try. They were called Charlotte Palmer’s Fine Little Cakes and are made fresh daily for the Jane Austen Centre from a period recipe in Laura Boyle’s Cooking with Jane Austen & Friends. The cookbook is available at the Jane Austen Centre gift shop.

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On the adjacent table was a humorous recipe in rhyme, for a plum pudding, thought to have been written by Jane Austen’s mother and found in the recipe book of Martha Lloyd, a close friend of Jane.

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Just before entering the gift shop, there is a little area with desks and writing materials, where I tried my hand at writing with a quill.

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The Jane Austen Centre offers the visitor a lovely, little eclectic exhibition, the charm of which lies in the one hour guided tour, where the guide brings to life insights into Jane’s life. It is an interesting stop on your Jane Austen trail in Bath, before or after you have visited Jane Austen’s home in Chawton village in Hampshire.

The Centre also has a Regency Tea Room, where you could have ‘Tea with Mr. Darcy’ or ‘Lady Catherine’s Proper Cream Tea’ among other options. Of interest is also the Jane Austen festival held in Bath, organized by the Centre every September.

Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Jane Austen Centre. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #13]

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41 thoughts on “Bath Experiences: A morning at the Jane Austen Centre

  1. Lovely pictures! I’ve been to The Jane Austen Centre before but I didn’t know that the family knew sign language. Did the tour guide give a reason for it? It’s pretty intriguing, maybe they were just that well educated. #Farawayfiles

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    • Thanks, Kat. I also didn’t know that Jane Austen and her siblings had learnt sign language but according to the guide, the siblings learnt it to communicate with her second who had a disability.

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  2. Pride and Prejudice is still one of my favourite books, so the Jane Austen Center is high on my list if I ever make my way back to Bath! In my head, Jane Austen seems like such a strong personality. I always imagined that she would be a bit like Lizzie from Pride & Prejudice!

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    • It is one of my all-time favourite books as well, Bryna. I agree that Lizzie’s character is the most well-defined of all of Jane Austen’s characters and I also imagined that it reflected her own personality closely.

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  3. I must do this next time I’m in Bath, Ahila! I missed this out on my last visit but I’m a big fan of Jane Austen. I would love to visit during the festival. Great to read this as part of #FarawayFiles

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    • I am a big fan of Jane Austen too, Clare. Next time I visit Bath, I would very much like to visit during the September festival and stay at No 4 Sidney Place, where Jane lived for a time.

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    • The crumpets were indeed delicious. Hall and Woodhouse restaurant even has a challenge, where they ask customers to share their favourite combination of toppings for crumpets from their offerings.

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  4. Ahhh crumpets! Delicious! I used to make them and they are even better fresh from the griddle. But I digress. I think you already know I am a Jane Austen fan Ahila and I cannot wait to visit the centre later this year. Did you know 2017 is the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death? Thanks for sharing your experience with us on #FarawayFiles

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    • That’s wonderful that you can make crumpets. Do you use a special crumpet pan? Yes, I had read that it was the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death and that a few five pound notes have been released recently, with Jane Austen’s portrait micro-engraved into them. Hope you enjoy your visit to Bath and the centre this year, Katy!

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    • The crumpets at Hall and Woodhouse was really good and I am sure you would love the restaurant. I did enjoy the Jane Austen Centre but my favourite Jane Austen place in England is in Chawton village. I am glad that I was able to visit both.

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  5. Despite having read Pride & Prejudice I think I’ve learnt more about Jane Austen from your post than I previously known! I’ve just had a read through your other Bath posts too – I can recommend walking the Bath Skyline trail if you do get a chance in the future,we walked it a few months back.

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  6. I wish we had had more time when we were in Bath and that I had been fond of Jane Austen at that time. Shortly after that trip I had to re-read Pride & Prejudice and fell in love with the book and movie. I hated it in high school but as now it’s one of my favorite time periods, I fell in love with it. #wkendtravelinspiration

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    • Now that you are a fan of Pride & Prejudice, then you have to go on the Jane Austen trail next time you visit England – Chawton village, Winchester cathedral and Bath.

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  7. Very descriptive, Ahila. I already feel like I visited the Jane Austen Centre. It was interesting to hear that Jane Austen parents were avid readers and had a great library. All these books must have contributed to stirring her imagination.

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    • Another interesting fact that I learnt was that Jane Austen and her mother used to enjoy writing rhyme responses to each other, over fictional characters or situations. So, her home must have been an environment that nurtured her creativity and imagination.

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  8. I loved my visit here. I actually enjoying trying on the bonnets and looking ridiculous. Coincidentally we stopped at Hall and Woodhouse just because we thought it looked like, I had no idea of the history. Then onto the Roman baths. Sounds like overall you had as good a time as I did.

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  9. I’m in love with Jane Austen, I wish to be her. As in write at least 06 complete novels, of which one is a timeless classic before I die.
    Question: What is the backstory for the frame with the question mark?

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    • Best wishes for your novel writing then! As for the frame with the question mark, under the romantic connections of Jane Austen section, the story behind that is that Jane had met someone during one of their seaside holiday visits. She had fallen in love and was nearly engaged. However, the man in question died before they even got to that point.

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  10. Great post, Ahila – loved it! Jane Austen is one of my favourite English novelists; I would love to go the Jane Austen Centre when I visit Bath…hmm, I think I’m going to have crumpets for breakfast tomorrow 🙂

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